Olympians, volunteers to face Rio's challenges
EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press coverage of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will begin Friday (Aug. 5), at bpnews.net.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP) -- Sid Hopkins is an eye-catching sight when he visits the Olympics.
"There is an openness by people to talk with one another and to talk about spiritual things," Hopkins said. "So sharing the seeds of the Gospel through the 'storytelling' witnessing pin is well-received. Then the seeds of the Gospel go back all over the world as the people return home."
Hopkins is in Rio de Janeiro as the world prepares to turn its gaze on the first South American city ever to host the Olympics. The Games, kicking off with the Aug. 5 opening ceremony, will become the centerpiece of family entertainment and workplace discussions for more than two weeks.
Pre-event publicity for the Olympics has been largely negative, due to concerns over the Zika virus, Brazil's economic struggles, the fitness of Rio's water supply, the Russian doping scandal and other issues. But Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup proved to be successful, and Olympic organizers are banking on a repeat of that success in Rio.
The Games are expected to be the most-watched TV event in U.S. history, surpassing the 2012 Olympics in London. Americans will tune in to witness a number of significant storylines. Will Michael Phelps add to his record-holding medal count in his final Olympic competition? The U.S. swimmer has 22 medals, including 18 golds, to his credit so far. Both numbers are more than any Olympian in history.
Will U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas repeat as a gold medalist? How will new events like golf and rugby fare?
Baptist Press coverage during the Olympics will focus largely on Christian athletes who are competing. U.S. men's diver David Boudia won gold in the 10-meter platform competition in 2012 and is looking to add to his medal count in both that event and the men's 10-meter synchro competition with his teammate Steele Johnson. Both men gave strong testimonies of their faith in Christ following the Olympic trials earlier this summer.
"This is not what my identity is going to be in the rest of my life," Johnson said. "Yeah, I'm Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time, I'm here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we're doing."
Other BP stories will feature athletes like Vincent Hancock, a two-time gold medalist in skeet shooting; archer Mackenzie Brown; and volleyball player Christa Dietzen.
Sports ministry Athletes in Action has launched a prayer campaign in which Christians can pray for specific Olympians as they travel to and compete in Rio. After signing up, prayer partners will receive the names of five athletes and details about their home countries and events. AIA will have chaplains in Rio to share the Gospel with Olympians and ask for specific prayer requests.
Information about the prayer campaign and other Olympics-related resources from AIA are available at http://athletesinaction.org/olympics/share.
In addition, a number of Baptist volunteers like Hopkins will be in Rio during the Olympics to share the Gospel both with local residents and with the thousands of visitors from across the globe.
"The Olympics is an amazing gathering of people from all over the world, much like the gathering in Jerusalem at Pentecost," Hopkins said.
John Crocker, evangelism and missions pastor at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., is leading a team of seven people who will engage Rio residents with the Gospel through evangelistic block parties and pin trading.
"There exists no greater opportunity to reach people from over 200 nations in 30 days than the Olympic Games," Crocker said. "We have seen many people who come to the Olympic Games open to listen to the Gospel because the atmosphere created is one of friendship on a global level. Ministry during the Olympics is simply electric."